Book Reviews

Tsar Feodor: Chaliapin in America

"Given Chaliapin’s status as one of the truly great operatic artists of the 20th century, the English-language literature is somewhat thin. Aside from ‘autobiographies’ in various formats, the most recent book is the late Victor Borovsky’s Chaliapin: A Critical Biography. Well illustrated and with a fine discography, it has to be considered the standard work on Chaliapin." READ MORE... - Stanley Henig

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Evolution Stands Faith Up: Reflections on Evolution’s Wars

"This is an inspiring, readable collection of 21 essays of reflective value to everyone. You can dip into any of these well-crafted and thoughtful essays at leisure without concern for order. The layout of each essay is appealing, beginning with a quote extracted from the essay, which summarizes the key insight, and finishing with a list of suggested readings and resources." READ MORE... - Dr. Greg M. Stott

"The author immerses us in a broad range of topics with a common theme: why science is critical for our well-being and how “belief,” as a “disruptor,” delays and stops the correct comprehension and acceptance of evidence." READ MORE... - Avelina Espinosa, PhD, Professor of Biology, Roger Williams University, United States

"Many biologists and scientists in general would probably agree that the struggle against creationism as an alternative to science is a war that must be waged. However, we all know it is a difficult fight. Hence, most of us are content sitting on the sidelines, doing our own work, watching others engage this important and often thankless debate." READ MORE... - G.A.L., PhD, Evolutionary Biologist, Canada

"This is a delightful collection of essays about, as the author puts it, “evolution and its wars against superstition.” Professor Paz-Y-Miño does not try to teach evolutionary thinking in this book, or explain Darwin’s ideas in any way. But he is a firm believer in evolutionary processes, and you can easily feel his frustration at the victory of inherent belief over evidence-based thinking in our society." READ MORE... - Jan A. Pechenik

"I am delighted that some of Paz-y-Mino's finest essays and editorials have been collected in a single volume. He is a prolific essayist and I have enjoyed reading his work over the last two decades. In the tradition of Richard Dawkins he does not pull any punches, but when he cuts to the core of an argument, he does it with the flare of a true artist. Too many of our colleagues work so hard to appear open minded that their brains appear to have fallen out. When they teach our students that they can pick and choose when to be logical, critical thinkers, they are modeling the type of reasoning that leads to the politics of convenience and it's bridesmaids: racism, sexism, and the whole host of xenophobias. When the emperor has no clothes, I want to be standing in the back row with Guillermo, pointing a finger and having a good laugh." - Stan Braude, PhD, Professor of Practice in Biology, Washington University in St. Louis

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Exultant Forces of Translation and the Philosophy of Travel of Alphonso Lingis

"This is a fascinating study of an extraordinary man’s engagement with language and translation in today’s multifaceted world of intertwining cultures.” - Susan Bassnett, FRSL, Professor of Comparative Literature, Special Advisor in Translation Studies, Sub-Faculty of Modern Languages, University of Warwick

"Dalia Staponkutė interweaves literature, philosophy, and anthropology to make connections between the theory, practice and poetics of cultural translation. Particularly brilliant is the way she applies Bakhtin’s notion of the “chronotope of the road,” to unpack relationships of the body, travel, and translation in the writing of Alphonso Lingis." - Stephanos Stephanides, FEA OSSI, Professor of English and Comparative Literature, University of Cyprus

"While translators traverse numerous sources, such as dictionaries, metaphoric variations that never result in a copy of the original, this text is a way of telling the “traveler” that there is an intertwining of sense forming a mutual “transcreation.” The latter allows the traveler to form relationships with the other that neither has suspected. According to Staponkutė, Lingis adds another dimension to encounters by travelers across texts and cultures of different continents and peoples: body comportment. It is at this level that the author points to the ways that bodies “speak” and the ways they find some immediate sense and its linguistic inadequacies. There is a “transcreational intercorporeity” that spontaneously discloses and obscures our own self understanding and the understanding of the other – leaving us with a continuous wonder and fascination to learn more of what was still “unsaid” and what can never be fully said." - Algis Mickunas, Professor of Philosophy, Ohio University

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Scepticism: Hero and Villain

"In a new collection of essays collected by Sir Roy Calne and William O’Reilly, inquirers from a multitude of backgrounds set out again on this search for truth, coming up with some fascinating insights on the history of scepticism on the way." READ MORE... - Isabel Asquith

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The Psychology of Handwriting

"Barbara Gawda's book entitled The Psychology of Handwriting is a valuable interdisciplinary study of the relationship between psychological characteristics and handwriting. This area has explored for a long time whether it is possible to identify a person's personality and other traits on the basis of his/her handwriting." READ MORE... - Marek Leśniak Ph.D

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Women and War: Opening Pandora’s Box – Intimate Relationships in the Shadow of Traumatic Experiences

“This book, Women and War, is a searingly readable collection of narratives, which painstakingly take us through the specific experiences of women in war, or resulting from war, in some cases as the remote victims of war. Running through these accounts are insights drawn from intercultural experience, and the tragedy arising from our human differentiation into races and cultures. An enthusiastic team of Editors, Marie-Claire Patron, the magician storyteller of intercultural tales, Roni Wildeboer, the wife of a Vietnam Veteran, and Ami Rokach with his psychological and editorial expertise, have assembled a work of great importance. No one who reads this book will forget it.” - Raoul Mortley AO FAHA (Officer in the Order of Australia, and Fellow of the Academy of Humanities of Australia); Pro Vice-Chancellor International. Executive Dean, Faculty of Society & Design. Bond University, Australia

“It was a real challenge to read the chapters - I had dealt with Veterans most of my working life (in the Department of Veterans' Affairs) and some of the stories brought back memories of these times. I am very happy to endorse this book. The stories put in real terms, in simple terms, the distress felt by those suffering from PTSD or those so close to those suffering. I wish we had something like this for the people I dealt with. It concerns real people, telling their real stories and I feel it would make much more sense to PTSD sufferers than us as "workers" telling them that it is real - real people so poignantly tell their stories. What I saw as well was some hope for an education resource for the medical and other professionals from these real stories.” - Rob Fitzgerald, (BSc, DipT (sec) and MBA) Australia

“As with all of Marie-Claire Patron’s books ('Diary of a French Girl', 'Victim Victorious', 'The Legacy of the Baby Boomers or the French Social System'), I wish I had read Women and War: Opening Pandora’s Box a decade earlier. Being a polyphony of female voices that brings different countries and tragic events in human history together, Women and War provides an insightful focus into the nature of PTSD and its intergenerational and intercultural legacy. It reveals the interconnectedness of human beings in the cruelties they inflict upon each other and the sufferings they share, regardless of their origin, race, colour, nationality, and the sides they happen to be on in any war conflict. I would recommend this book to young men, to prevent them from entrusting their lives and career choices into the hands of politicians. For it is not only their lives and careers, it is the lives and lifestyles of their future wives, children and grandchildren that are at stake. Women will also benefit enormously from the experiences of the brave authors who have worn their hearts on their sleeve. Marie-Claire Patron and her co-editors, Roni Wildeboer and Ami Rokach have produced a truly unique anthology of narratives and academic chapters told through the prism of multicultural contexts, which makes it obvious that one does not have to be directly involved in a war-torn conflict in order to experience the devastating aftershocks of war. I was born in a country that lost 27 million people to the fight against Nazis in the Second World War. It is only thanks to Women and War that I have fully realized the scale of that war’s horrific intergenerational influence on my grandmother, my mother and me. I probably would never have done it if I had not read Women and War.” - Julia Kraven, PhD, Intercultural Communication, Bond University | Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Nigerian Immigrants in Greece: Low-Status Work, Community, and Decollectivization

"Dr. Fouskas provides us with a scholarly first-class study of Nigerian migrant labour in Greece. It considerably adds to our understanding and through a penetrating macro and micro sociological analysis deprives us of misconceptions, clichés and theoretical fallacies of the origins, patterns and functions of migrant workers' exclusion. It is a valuable book for students and experts in migration, community and work studies." - Iordanis Psimmenos, Associate Professor, Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences, Greece

“This book provides rich insights into the lives of migrants in Greece, portraying them not as victims or hustlers but people. Fouskas’ analysis of the impact of insecurity and deregulation on the Nigerian community has important lessons for all those interested in labour organising, migration and work across the European Union. Readers will see street vendors with a new appreciation of their lives and struggles after reading this fascinating study. - Bridget Anderson, Professor of Migration and Citizenship, Deputy Director at the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS), University of Oxford

“This important study provides a perceptive and comprehensive overview of the Nigerian immigrant experience in Greece. Creatively combining interviews with survey and census data, Fouskas vividly recounts the hopes, dreams, fears, trials, and triumphs of this emerging ethnic community with clarity and compassion. This book will become a reference point for research on low-status work, immigrant organizations, collective organizing, and labor rights in Greece. It not only effectively summarizes what we know about this immigrant group, but also puts a human face to how Nigerian immigrants have quietly, yet profoundly, reshaped Greek society today.” - Van C. Tran, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Columbia University

“Dr. Theodoros Fouskas, with his book Nigerian Immigrants in Greece: Low-status Work, Community, and Decollectivization, has stimulated an imperative discussion of the severe effects of precarious, low-status work on the collective organization of immigrant workers in the 21st century. This well-conceptualized book and unique in-depth research deals with crucial questions and complex issues and offers invaluable insights with remarkable efficiency. It helps fill a significant gap in Greek and international literature and should be recommended to academics, researchers, policymakers and all those seeking comprehension of labor and immigration issues. Its thorough analysis with sufficient clarity also makes it a required source suitable for classroom use. The book contributes significantly to the current discourse concerning the difficulties caused by acute employment precariousness in immigrant community organization, association formation and participation, immigrant workers’ representation, social and labor rights, trade unionism and solidarity and how these should be combated within a contemporary insecure socio-economic context.” - Angelos Syrigos, Assistant Professor, Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences, Secretary General of Population and Social Cohesion, Ministry of Interior, Greece

"Modern Greece is a country used to economic hardship; the decades following World War II (especially the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s) and the last seven years of financial catastrophe (2009–16) have brought about major economic and social problems, the likes of which are rare in modern Western countries. As a result, during both periods (but even traditionally before World War II) Greece has been a country of emigrants." READ MORE... - John Mazis, Hamline University, Minnesota, USA

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The Doubling: Those Influential Writers that Shape Our Contemporary Perceptions of Identity and Consciousness in the New Millennium

“Diana Sheets has produced a lively and conversational presentation of the major storytellers of the modern literary tradition. It's a wonderful introduction for American students, high school and college, who come to these works often as strangers. The Q & A format is engaging and Sheets knows just when to inform and when to interpret. I would recommend this to my own students.” - Mark Bauerlein, Professor of English, Emory University

"The Doubling is an intellectual can-opener for closed minds. It’s the book that every 21st century undergraduate needs to understand how the great works of Western literature illuminate the human condition. Mustering a highly innovative-and easy-to-read approach-Dr. Sheets and Dr. Shaughnessy pair authors and their methods of storytelling to dissect how people tick. The Doubling is a trail guide to what Chekhov called “the matchless smell of humanity," imparting lessons on every page." - Jonathan Sanders, Professor of Journalism, Stony Brook University

"I highly recommend The Doubling, a series of literary interviews with Diana Sheets with questions posed by Michael F. Shaughnessy. It’s an edifying enhancement of The Great Conversation exemplified in the Hutchins/Adler Great Books of the Western World. The Doubling facilitates our educational understanding of great literature and enriches our appreciation of the humanities." - Max Weismann, Cofounder with Mortimer Adler, Center for the Study of The Great Ideas in Chicago

"These lively conversations take us back to fundamental truths about important books, works that have struck deep in the Western imagination, opening and exploring the nature of consciousness and the mystery of who and what we really are. There's no scholastic noodling here; any thoughtful reader can read these chapters, enjoy them, and come away refreshed." - Bruce Michelson, author of Printer's Devil: Mark Twain and the American Publishing Revolution

"The Doubling, by Dr. Diana Sheets is a compelling, richly analytical, witty and engaging work. The pairing of key literary figures, including for example Cervantes and Kafka; or Borges and Márquez, revolves around “the familiar and the strange," a concept fundamental to both the arts and anthropological research, at the heart of interpretation. Profound and playful at the same time, Sheets examines novels within their authorial and sociological contexts with depth, sophistication, and sensitivity." - Liora Bresler, Professor of Education, University of Illinois

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Political Concerns and Literary Topoi in French Grand Opera

"This book brings together 12 essays written by the author over 25 years, between 1992 and 2017. Letellier is the premier writer in the English language on Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864) and French grand opera. The book is set out over two parts: “Politics” and “Literature”. Apart from a lengthy consideration of the fascinating clash between the Old and New Covenants, ‘Historical and Theological Contents in La Juive (1835) by Scribe and Halevy’ (chapter 4), Meyerbeer’s compositions are a central concern of the book. So, in a sense, the unifying chapter lies in chapter 7 where the author writes on Meyerbeer the Man and Robert le Diable (1831).

The author in his first chapter raised a number of questions, including why Meyerbeer’s Grand operas (Robert, Les Huguenots (1836), Le Prophete (1849) and L’Africaine (1865) chose such sensitive and controversial religious settings. His answer is that ‘religion was perhaps the dominant force’ in Meyerbeer’s life. With chapter 7 it explains that Meyerbeer came from a devout and rich Jewish Reform Prussian family. He remained faithful to that faith and was buried in the Jewish cemetery Schonhauser Allee, Berlin. Yet he accepted the conversion decisions of his daughters Bianca , to Catholicism, and Cornelie to Lutheranism. This reviewer would argue the composer recognised the importance of religion to the human personality. Regrettably, his faith does not seem to have resulted in much joy. His marriage in 1826 to his first cousin, Minna Mosson, resulted in a devoted relationship. But Meyerbeer was a cosmopolitan traveller in pursuit of his musical career and from 1838 his wife chose to live in Berlin and later wander spas for sickness cures. Thus they led frequently independent lives.

Letellier’s extensive writings include a first rate biography of Meyerbeer. Although the composer’s musical reputation brought him fame, enhanced his wealth and brought him royal friendships and honours, he still experienced anti-semiticism (richesse). Extracts from his letters to his brother, Michael Beer in 1818 and Heine in 1839 are repeated in this volume. Arguably, the religious basis behind Meyerbeer’s first three grand operas was induced by the pain of ‘acculturation’, a preferred modern term over ‘assimilation’. The composer’s intimate correspondence was in German, not Yiddish, whilst being fluent in other languages. Yet he kept family anniversaries by reference to the Hebrew calendar. In this, he followed the western Ashkenazi differentiation from the Russian, Polish, Lithuanian eastern Jews, after the Jewish enlightenment (Haskala), led by Moses Mendelssohn (1792-86), and reflected in Meyerbeer’s Reform Jewish family antecedents and mother, Amalia. Professor Monika Richarz of the Holocaust and UN Outreach Programme has written insightfully about this distinction. If, crudely put, assimilation requires the Jewish minority to abandon its faith and accept the surrounding culture, that is to be deplored, but acculturation involves the minority’s active contribution to the surrounding culture.

Part I should perhaps be better headed Religion rather than Politics. Indeed, in his Introduction, the author explains that the issues of politics are dealt with through the ‘obvious vectors’ of power and religion. The book’s back page outline explains that it seeks to examine ‘the intellectual content and structural understanding of French Grand Opera…underscored by a theological hermeneutic of history’. This reviewer is too much of a secular historian to trace this theological hermeneutic through John Hus to a modern world created by Protestantism. Hermeneutics is after all the theory and methodology of interpretation. Article X of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (1789) granted religious freedom and opinion to all citizens, subject to public order. That, and Prussia’s extension of citizenship to Jews in 1812, was of obvious import to the composer. But such an hermeneutic ignores the enormous number of intellectual, military and political factors which are causative of events and how nations and individuals respond to them-and their unintended consequences.

The excellent chapter on La Juive, is set at the time of the Council of Constance (1414-18), regarded by some as the peak of medieval persecution of Jewry. The author sets out the Christian medieval persecution of the Jews. The heretical crime in the opera is centered on is the breach of the laws against miscegeny and inter-marriage occasioned by the affair between Rachel, the Jew of the title, and the scoundrel Leopold/Samuel. The representatives of the two covenants are Eleazar, the Jewish silversmith and local synagogue leader and Cardinal Brogli, President of the Council. The play is shot through with deceit. Rachel has been brought up by Eleazar, in his faith. Leopold is really the Christian nephew of the Holy Roman Emperor, Sigismund, and is married to the Princess Eudoxie. Broglie killed Eleazar’s two sons in his secular days and believed he had lost his daughter, who is Rachel. Eleazar is the only person who knows the truth of Rachel’s origins.

A beauty of Letellier’s working from the original composition and its singers is that it better enables consideration of subsequent revivals. This reviewer is still sometimes surprised at the critical severity of some opera reviewers. Thus the last revival of the opera at the Metropolitan Opera in 2004 included not only criticism of ‘the modernist’ costumes and stage setting, but also of the unbelievability of the plot. A critic, describing himself as a painter and writer on Jewish art, even raises the question whether it is a radically progressive work in a rare moment of 19th century liberalism or a complete capitulation to Christian society and a regretful example of Jewish self-loathing. The crowd scenes show both Jews and Christians are driven by mutual hostility and suspicion. The critic is at pains to attribute to Eleazar a motive purely of vengeance, unable to ignore his parental obligations. Scribe is right in presenting Rachel as the ultimate hero who has made the supreme sacrifice of love, forgiving Leopold by taking the whole of the blame on herself. Nevertheless, was she needlessly reckless in denouncing Leopold in Act 3?

Letellier’s operatic consideration is a tour de force of the sacramental and theological analysis behind the plot. One doubts that the opera goers at the original production at the Paris Opera (1835), and international acclaim in the 19th century, with more muted reception of modern revivals knew their Bible and theology as well. Also intriguing is the author’s consideration of how Scribe came to produce such a successful libretto. After all, Scribe made his living from running a factory of employees to produce c400 well known plays. He was a master of vaudeville, parodying, but satisfying, the bourgeois audiences he pandered to as a hard headed businessman. Letellier points to Scribe’s visit to Constance in 1826 and his probable use of Ulric de Reichental’s Manuscript Chronicle of the history of the Council, a lithograph from which is included in the text. This reviewer cannot dismiss entirely Fromental Halevy’s (1799-1862) guidance, which may have gone beyond any strict division between composer and librettist. Halevy was a Jew and the son of the cantor Elie Halevy, secretary of the Jewish community of Paris.

Another revival, that of the Bavarian State Opera in 2016, by Calixto Bieto, with de Billy as conductor, submits that Scribe never meant the opera to be performed as an integral edition, and to be eminently malleable to subsequent adaptations. The modern-dress costume is ‘dark and drab’, apart from Rachel’s green dress. The scenery is also modern. It freely admits that the overture and ballet and large chunks of music have been omitted. Vocally and dramatically Eudoxie captured the limelight.

Le Prophete revolves around the Anabaptist rebellion in Munster 1534-35, which the author sees as a logical continuation of the doctrines of John Hus, executed after Constance, as a result of the Catholic Church’s fury against heresy. Chapter 5 provides an excellent Biblical and sacramental and theological analysis of the plot, followed by chapter 6 on its presentations in London. Clearly, to be grand opera, the themes of love and death must be intertwined in the plot, which the author uses to characterise the principals. As the author writes, religion is ‘totally discredited’ but John and his beloved mother, Fides, are spiritually saved . Dare we hope that so is Berthe?. Nevertheless, the composition leaves this reviewer troubled as a warning against chiliastic prophets, not unlike those of the English Cromwellian period and arguably in visions of the Soviet era.

Part 2 ‘Literature’ is commended to readers, particularly the final chapter 12: The Pastoral as Structural Determinant in the Grand Opera Scenarios of Scribe and Meyerbeer. The concept of the pastoral has influenced not only music and dance , but also literature and art. The pastoral as a theme reflects the freedom of shepherds tending their flocks within the natural seasons. The quest is for ‘an ideal of peace, harmony and unity, traditionally realised through the symbolism of dance, feast, [and] marriage’. Theologically, it can be seen as a return to ‘the original justice’ of Genesis, or Adam and Eve before the Fall in Eden. This is realised in Robert, denied as in Les Huguenots, or expressed darkly and ambiguously in Le Prophete. Readers are left to consider the use of the theme presented by Letellier in Le Pardon de Ploermel and L’Africaine, considered in some depth in other chapters.

Once it is accepted that this ideal of Paradise cannot be achieved on earth, but only in heaven, then chapter 8’s focus on Goethe’s Faust , becomes understandable, if the reader is familiar at least with the plot of this major work of German literature. The pastoral is achieved by God’s grace through Alice in Robert. In Goethe, it is achieved by the soiled Gretchen’s penitent decision to refuse release from prison and accept her execution. Similarly Faust’s repentance when he recognises the limitations of human existence and experience. The author brilliantly compares Robert’s purgation and mystical ascent with the end of Goethe’s Faust 2.

This is a book for scholars, as each essay is of such depth, that ‘potted summaries’ would not do them justice and alternative interpretations would require a book sized review to explain. They assume an understanding of the plots or a willingness to study. Opera lovers-the music, singing and dance may be everything , but a little theological and literary underpinning can be beneficial. Thoroughly recommended." - Ian Rogers

“Robert Ignatius Letellier has delved into Meyerbeer’s opera Le Prophète in a deep and interesting way. This book focuses on ‘parables of politics, faith and transcendence,’ and is important to anyone with interest in French grand opera and religion. For those who are able to read and understand the music dramaturgy and revised score, the original music can be found on pages 71-78. In addition, the lovely presentation totaling 278 photographs, paintings, woodcuts, and cartoons are on heavy glossy paper. For example, Fig. 18 shows ‘Caricature of Meyerbeer bringing the Prophet to Berlin like a latter-day Messiah,’ Fig. 64 shows “the Cathedral scene (stage design, Philippe Chaperon, Paris 1875),” as well as photographs of Eugene Scribe and prints from Jan van Leeden and the Anabaptist leaders. Modern productions after WWII could only provide stages fitted for Le Prophète. Revivals were first seen in London in 1959 and in the United States in 1977 and 1979. Le Prophète was performed in Germany in 2000 and in Munster in 2004 with several other performances in 2007 and 2008. Letellier has collected concise and detailed information about Meyerbeer and Le Prophète. This makes me eager to learn about Meyerbeer’s other operas..” - Dale Hesdorffer, Professor, Epidemiology, and Gertrude H. Sergievsky Center, Columbia University Medical Center, USA

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